Straight Shooting [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (31st December 2020).
The Film

For years, cattlemen have used the seemingly endless stretches of the far western plains for grazing unfettered; that is, until the homesteaders followed and erected barbed wire fences marking off their claims on the land. A war is brewing between Thunder Flint (Duke Lee), leader of the cattlemen, and Sweet Water Sims (George Berrell), leader of the homesteaders. Flint fires the opening salvo when he cuts off the homesteaders' access to a spring with the threat that trespassers will be shot on sight, sending notice of this action to Sims via young cattleman Danny Morgan (Hoot Gibson) who happens to be in love with Sims' daughter Joan (Molly Malone). When Sims refuses to give up his ranch and leader of the outlaw posse Black-Eyed Pete (Milton Brown) shows no interest in helping him, Flint sends his hired gun Placer Fremont (Vester Pegg) to track down wanted gunman Cheyenne Harry (Harry Carey) and effortlessly dismisses the ineffectual sheriff's attempt to bring Harry to justice. Through his comradeship with Fremont, Harry is all-too-willing to help Flint put down the homesteaders; that is until he meets Joan and her father over the corpse of her brother Ted (Ted Brooks) who was shot down at the spring by one of Flint's men. Unable to resist Joan's pleading hazel eyes and Sims' cries of anguish to the heavens, Harry not only breaks with Flint but decides to go straight; sparking the ire of Flint who charges Fremont with killing Harry before he can revel Flint's plan of attack on Sims' ranch.

The feature directorial debut of John Ford then known as "Jack Ford" Straight Shooting was one of four features and five shorts he directed in 1917 alone, five of which were "Cheyenne Harry" adventures with Carey starting with the short The Soul Herder (although Carey had already made eight other Cheyenne Harry shorts with Fred Kelsey the same year). Right from the start, Ford's assured visual touch is evident, fitting epic scope and scale into an Academy frame, as are his thematic concerns about the shrinking of the untamed wild as a consequence of western expansion. The economy of Ford's storytelling benefits from the familiarity of tropes in the western as a film genre even as early as 1917 but also from the his visual sense, introducing Flint against a backdrop of wide open space and a large herd of cattle, Sims in the comparative intimacy of the ranch, his grown children at work and rest in single shots, and Harry popping out of the hollow of a tree to read the his wanted poster freshly nailed to a branch. Doorways frame the barrier between the wild and civilization with certain characters shown entering or hanging at the threshold, and both set furnishings and natural exterior features are used in the foreground or background to give a sense of depth, and the action sequences are briskly edited, suggesting that Ford picked up quite a bit in the four years he apprenticed under his older brother Francis Ford () who had come to California four years ahead of his brother and would helm nearly two hundred shots and features between 1909 and 1928 (and acted in nearly five hundred shorts and films from 1909 up until his death in 1953).

Video

Released by Universal in 1917 and reissued in 1925, Straight Shooting was thought lost until a print was discovered in the Czech National Archive. Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen Blu-ray is derived from Universal's 4K restoration which utilized a 35mm safety fine grain element created from the Czech materials from the Library of Congress and a Czech 35mm print belonging to the Museum of Modern Art, and for the most part the image is very clean with the exception of a handful of scratchy segements and frames here and there. The image is clear enough to reveal the lack of fill light used in some of the wider daylight exterior shots and the practice from the earliest days of silent films of shooting interior sets without a roof to use daylight as the primary lighting source (quite noticeable in a number of shots where the light levels of the interior match those seen out of open doors and windows).

Audio

No complaints about the technical quality of the new Michael Gatt score recorded recently in stereo and encoded here in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, although it can be distracting at times slathered as it is over the action. The intertitles appear to have been digitally recreated. IMDb and some reviews have referred to the character of Danny Morgan as Sam Turner, but he is Danny Morgan in the intertitles here and may have been renamed in the reissue prints.

Extras

Extras start off with an audio commentary by film historian Joseph McBride, author of "Searching for John Ford: A Life" who describes Straight Shooting as the "seminal John Ford film [] at the beginning of his career," discussing his lesser known silent films (twenty-five of which survive out of sixty-five), as well as his prolific output in 1917 alone. He also discusses the parallels of Carey's career, the actor also having come from the East Coast infatuated with the west and cowboys, noting his influence on Ford and how Ford directed John Wayne to model his performance and mannerisms on Carey, the artistic influences on Ford as a child and the Western and Civil War artists whose paintings he consulted daily on his productions, as well as the recurring locations throughout his filmography including Beale's Cut first seen here. Also included here is a fragment of Ford's 1920 silent Hitchin' Posts (3:11) preserved by the Library of Congress, starring Frank Mayo and featuring Duke Lee. "Bull Scores a Touchdown" (10:37) is a video essay by film critic Tag Gallagher who highlights the performers in the film who became part of Ford's stable of actors during this period (some of which would appear later on in films like Stagecoach), Carey embodying the "good bad man" of Ford's oeuvre, Ford's inventive staging, alternating the flat, head-on objective and dimensional subjective, as well as parallels between Ford's film's and the lesser seen ones of his older brother.

Packaging

The essay booklet by film critic Tag Gallagher offers a more concise version of Gallagher's topics of discussion from the video essay but also offer up some more interesting background on the restoration, noting that the intertitles actually come from the continuity treatment and differ from what was seen theatrically, noting differences between the intertitles here and those of the MoMA print which were translated from the Czech ones in 1976, as well as cuts demanded by the Chicago censors who objected to the film attempting to "heroize" characters like Harry (a remark which Ford and Carey may have responded to eight pictures later with Hell Bent).

Overall

John Ford fans and film students would do well to check out Straight Shooting as his feature debut does indeed seem like the "seminal John Ford film."

 


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